Skillet Baked Ziti

More skillet recipes!  I love one-dish recipes.  Mainly because I hate cleaning pans.  Admittedly, this is not my recipe.  This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.  But this recipe brings ziti to a new level.  The folks at America’s Test kitchen have outdone themselves this time.  In other words, this dish is easy and irresistable.

America’s Test Kitchen has put many of their own tricks in this recipe, so I just follow it.  The best part is actually cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce.  The pasta soaks up the delicious flavor of tomato and really adds something to it.  However, resist the urge to cook the pasta all the way in the sauce.  Otherwise, when you finish the dish in the oven, you will get gummy, soggy pasta.  If you follow that simple suggestion, you can’t go wrong with this recipe!

1 tablespoon olive oil
6  garlic cloves minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 ounces ziti (3 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 475 degrees.  Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 12-inch, ovensafe nonstick skillet.  Sauté over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add crushed tomatoes, water, and ziti.  Generously season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat.  Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil.  Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over top of ziti. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes.

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Buffalo Chicken Dip

This concoction is sometimes referred to as “crack dip”.  I made it for my boyfriend and he agreed, it has some deliciously addicting qualities.  It is a mixture of all the things we love about wings – chicken, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese.  This recipe has a sort of cult status in the food world.  There are many different versions of this dish, all are very similar with the same basic ingredients.

Please excuse my bad nail job in the picture.  This dish is creamy and full of flavor.  I never thought combining chicken, sauce, cream cheese, and dressing would make something so delicious, but it does.  Honestly, at first, I thought, “gross, I’m just gonna throw this all together?!”  Somehow, it all works out.  It is definitely a guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup ranch dressing

1/4 cup blue cheese dressing

1/2 cup buffalo sauce

1/2 cup blue cheese (you can also use 1/4 cup blue and 1/4 cup mozzarella)

1 cup chicken (the recipe calls for canned, but I’m a snob and used leftover chicken breast)

Heat the oven to 350.  Mix cream cheese, salad dressings, buffalo sauce, and cheeses together.  Stir in chicken. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.  DO NOT over bake.  Serve warm with your favorite veggies or bruschetta.

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

This is just one more leftover recipe from Thanksgiving.  Its a stunning combination of the spicy sweet taste of pumpkin pie with the rich creaminess of custard.  It is pretty much the perfect kind of dessert.

I created my own recipe after sampling a few online and being genearlly dissatisfied with all of them.  This is a luxourious thick custard with lots of pumpkin flavor and just the right amount of spice.  The burnt sugar topping is made with brown sugar instead of white sugar for an added layer off flavor. 

Don’t be afraid of custard.  Really.  As always, I will give you my simple tricks that make even creme brulee simple.  Step 1: Cook in a water bath.  This means you will have to cook your brulee in ramekins.  If you have very small bowls, they would work as well.  As you can see from my picture, I have flat square ramekins.  They just make cooking quicker and more even, but I’ve done this is small bowls and round ramekins as well.  Get your kettle going so you have hot water.  Place the filled ramekins in a baking dish.  Slowly pour hot water until it comes halfway up the side of the ramekin.  Then slide it in the oven!  Step 2: You do NOT need fancy equipment to get the crunchy carmelized top on your creme brulee.  Simply raise your oven rack to the highest notch.  Crank the heat to broil.  Place set custards with sugar under the broiler.  Make sure the ramekins are approximately 2 inches from the broiler.  Leave them there for a few minutes and the sugar should be nice and caramelized.

15 ounces of canned pumpkin

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

5 egg yolks

2 cups cream

1 cup half and half

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon of brandy

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

a little extra brown sugar to finish off the creme brulee

Preheat the oven to 325.  Mix pumpkin and sugars.  Add in egg yolks, vanilla, brandy, and spices.

In a saucepan, heat cream and half and half until it begins to bubble.  Add warm cream mixture to pumpkin mixture.  Stir together slowly.

Divide custard into ramekins.  This will make approximately 8 creme brulees.  Place ramekins in 2 baking dishes and fill the baking dish with warm water as described in the above step 1.  Be careful not to get any water in the custard.

Cook custard at 325 for approximately 40 minutes.  Custard is done when it is set and the middle jiggles slighty when shaken.

Let custard set for at least 6 hours.  This means you can make the custard well ahead of time.  Let cool then place in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove ramekins from fridge.  Set oven to broil and move oven rack to the top.  Sprinkle the custard with a very thin layer of brown sugar.  Place 2 inches below broiler for a few minutes, or until sugar is bubbling.  Remove and let sugar cool, then serve!

Ginger Chicken

I really love Chinese food. My boyfriend likes it even more.  Unfortunately, when we moved to our new apartment we realized we chose the one neighborhood with no Chinese food.  Its a tragedy, really.  Of course, we couldn’t just go without Chinese food, so I learned to make some on my own.

Not only that, but Chinese food is comforting.  Its warm, its spicy, and it tingles my taste buds, especially when ginger is involved.  Right now, I could use all the comfort I can get. I am currently waiting to hear about my internship applications and going slightly batty in the process. My friend (who follows this blog) suggested I cook to pass the time. 🙂  So this one is for you, Kristin.

This recipe is delightfully appealing and surprisingly simple. I was intimidated to make my own ethnic food at first.  After all, why mess with a good thing? But after some trial and error, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good combination here.  I used leeks because its what I had around the house, but you could always use green onion or just regular onion.

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cubed

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of butter

2 carrots, peeled

1 medium leek, washed

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper (more or less depending on your taste)

1/4 cup grated ginger

3/8 cup of soy sauce (or 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons)

1 Tablespoon of sugar

1 cup of water

1 Tablespoon of sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons of lime juice

salt and pepper to tase

Begin by making sauce.  Heat sesame seed oil in a saucepan.  Add garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper.  Heat until fragrant.  This will take only a minute.  Add soy sauce, water, sugar, and lime juice.  Let simmer.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in pan until nearly cooked through.  This will only take a few minutes.  Remove from heat and add to sauce and turn heat down to medium-low.

While chicken is cooking slice leek crosswise,the slice lengthwise.  Chop carrots into evenly-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.  Heat last Tablespoon of oil in a hot pan.  Add carrots.  Continue to season vegetables with salt and pepper while cooking.  Once partially cooked (this will only take a couple of minutes), add butter and melt.  Then, immediately add leeks. Cook until transluscent.  Remove vegetables from heat and add to sauce.

Let mixture meld in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.  Serve over brown rice. You will never order Chinese again!